WASHINGTON: It was a paean to free speech. When director Steven Spielberg released his film “The Post” in 2017, the film critic for the Washington Post – whose editors and reporters are the focus of the newspaper melodrama – insisted Spielberg was “propelled by alarm at the election of Donald Trump.”
In the beginning was the word
The film centered on the Nixon administration’s attempt to prevent the publication of the Pentagon Papers. An act known as prior restraint.
But the nattering nabobs of the press are less enthusiastic about free speech and the federal government’s attempts at prior restraint when it comes to high-tech iconoclast Cody Wilson.
You see, Wilson’s company, Defense Distribution, won its lawsuit to vacate the State Department’s injunction prohibiting the posting on the company website of downloadable plans to produce handguns for 3-D printers.
Obama’s State Department initiated its arbitrary prior restraint of Defense Distribution under the pretext it was enforcing export restrictions on weapons sales.
Enter the Second Amendment Foundation
The heavy legal lifting on Wilson’s behalf was provided by the Second Amendment Foundation, which announced on its website:
“Under terms of the settlement, the government has agreed to waive its prior restraint against the plaintiffs, allowing them to freely publish the 3-D files and other information at issue. The government has also agreed to pay a significant portion of the plaintiffs’ attorney’s fees, and to return $10,000 in State Department registration dues paid by Defense Distributed as a result of the prior restraint.”
The settlement states that Wilson’s 3-D plans are appropriate for “public release in any form.”
The New York Times, the big winner in the Supreme Court’s landmark Pentagon Papers Case (1971), noted:
“Mr. Wilson, who is well known in anarchist and gun-rights communities, complained that his right to free speech was being stifled and that he was sharing computer code, not actual guns.”
The Constitution clearly states that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” That’s not anarchy, that’s the law of the land. A law intended to secure “ordered liberty” in America.
Chief counsel for the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, J. Adam Skaggs, told the Times,
“This isn’t a case where the underlying facts of the law changed. The only thing that changed was the administration.”
Skaggs is correct but for the wrong reasons. President Obama fancied himself something of an autocrat. Unable to get his way with a Republican Congress, he famously said he would rule with his phone and pen.
The Obama administration’s prior restraint of Wilson’s company was such a case in arbitrary rule.
Pens and Phones: The ultimate tools of anarchy
Since coming into office, President Trump has revoked many of Obama’s subjective executive orders, lifting a plethora of regulatory burdens on job-creating businesses and spurring an economic boom. And Trump has placed a strict constructionist on the high court in Neil Gorsuch and, very soon, will again when the U.S. Senate confirms the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh.
Capricious acts performed with phones and pens represent the ultimate in anarchy. Interpreting and enforcing the law as written, on the other hand, maintains the continuity of American freedom.
In New York Times Co. v. The United States, Justice Hugo Black wrote:
“Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government…In revealing the workings of government that led to the Vietnam War, the newspapers nobly did that which the Founders hoped and trusted they would do.”
Gun-rights advocates often say the First Amendment is meaningless without the Second to back it up. But thanks to new printing technology, which breaths life into written code, it appears the First Amendment is breathing renewed meaning into the Second… “which the Founders hoped and trusted they would do.”
Top Images: Cody Wilson with 3-D printed plastic handgun, founder of Defense Distributed. Documentary “Shall not be infringed” screen grab. Inset of handgun made on Ghost Gunner 2 computer-guided lathe, company website screen grab.